What happened last weekend?
After coming away from Alaska-Anchorage with just one point, the Michigan Tech Huskies needed to regroup and rebound against the Alaska Nanooks. The Huskies did just that on Friday, when they scored three goals in the second to jump ahead 3-1 and hold on for a 3-2 victory, their first road win of the season. On Saturday, with the score tied after 20 minutes, the Huskies again went to work in the middle frame, scoring twice and then holding fort en route to a 2-1 victory and the sweep.
After splitting with Lake Superior State two weeks ago to claim sole possession of second in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, the Bemidji State Beavers took on the Miami Redhawks in nonconference play. On Friday, the Beavers trailed 4-1 in the third before striking three times, including once with the goalie pulled to earn a 4-4 tie. On Saturday, the Beavers trailed by two and by one before evening the game both times. However, they appeared to run out of gas in the third as the Redhawks struck three times to skate away with a 6-3 win.
New lines, new chemistry
After the 2-2 tie in the Saturday night game against the Seawolves, head coach Mel Pearson and his staff looked at the possibility of changing lines in order to spark some offense from players not named Alex Petan and Tanner Kero. One of the newly created lines featured Petan alongside classmate C.J. Eick and freshman Mike Neville. The trio responded by being involved in all three goals on Friday against the Nanooks.
Pearson looked at the way certain guys got along off the ice, and used that chemistry to create a dangerous group on it.
“That’s what you are looking for when you change lines is some chemistry,” said Pearson. “I think they enjoy playing with each other, number one. They enjoy hanging out with each other off the ice, number two. They all are smart hockey players. They see plays and they read off each other extremely well.”
Petan notched four points on the weekend and Eick notched three assists, but it was the play of Neville that caught his coach’s eye.
“Mike Neville is leading our team in plus/minus at +8 for a freshman, which is incredible,” said Pearson. “Tanner [Kero] is minus, Blake Pietila is minus, and along comes a kid like Neville who just flies under the radar. He works hard. He shows up every night.”
Let’s Hanna the puck to Shane on the power play
The Huskies’ power play suffered in the early going this season as Pearson underestimated the value of former Husky Steven Seigo. Seigo’s vision made the Huskies’ advantage deadly for opponents almost every time they had one.
Sixteen games into this season, it appears as though freshman Shane Hanna might finally be settling into the role of power play quarterback after his strong performance throughout the Alaska trip which culminated in his first career power play goal on Saturday night.
“We need someone to step forward and really be the quarterback there,” said Pearson. “He’s starting to do that. You can see his confidence growing game-to-game. Now that he has a couple of goals, he’s really trying to do some things.”
The Huskies’ power play might not scare teams at 9.9% overall after their one-for-four performance on Saturday, but it has been better of late. In WCHA play, the Huskies are converting at 12.5% and continue to improve with each weekend.
What’s wrong with Blake Pietila?
A member of last season’s gold-medal winning U.S.A. squad at the World Junior Championships, Pietila has not exactly lifted many Huskies’ fans out of their seats this season. In 15 games, he has just one goal and seven points. To make matters worse, he has been held scoreless in his last five game, the longest such stretch of his career.
Pearson attributes much of his struggles not to nagging injuries, which have hampered his play somewhat, but instead to Pietila’s attempt to carry the Huskies whenever he feels they are in need of a pick-me-up.
“I think as things haven’t gone well, they have just compounded,” said Pearson. “He just has to simplify things and get back to the basics.”
Both times Pietila has gone at least four games without a point, he has bounced back with a timely goal. The Huskies hope he will relax, play a “greasy” game, as Pearson calls it, and get back to what makes him successful.
A deeper look at the Beavers
Coming into this weekend with a record of 5-8-3 overall, the Beavers have been excellent in WCHA play all season, gaining all five of their wins in conference play. After losing 10 players to graduation after last season, many thought the Beavers would struggle. Instead, they are scoring goals at a higher rate than they have in past seasons thanks to a pair of hard-working sophomores in Markus Gerbrandt (eight goals) and Cory Ward (nine goals).
“They work hard and skate well,” said Pearson. “They put pressure on you. They are just a solid team. They score a lot of goals, which has surprised people. They are playing well, they have some confidence.”
Where the Beavers are perhaps strongest is between the pipes. Junior Andrew Walsh sports a 2.89 goals against average and has already racked up a shutout despite the fact that the Beavers have had a difficult nonconference schedule. What makes Walsh dangerous, however, is his ability to play the puck. He give the Beavers the ability to jump up the ice quickly once the puck is turned over.
“It’s just like having another defenseman back there to break it out,” said Pearson. “They don’t have to back and retrieve the puck because they know he’s going to do a good job.”
The Huskies will need to either dump the puck in hard or keep shots low when firing on net in order to attempt to neutralize Walsh’s ability to start the Beavers’ offense.
Game times this weekend are 7:07 p.m. both Friday and Saturday night.